Major solar thermal firms 'are misleading consumers'

Consumer group calls on industry to clean up its act after undercover investigation reveals high-pressure sales tactics

A A A

Solar thermal firms are bamboozling householders with high pressure sales tactics and misleading financial statistics, an undercover investigation by a consumer group has found.

Which? condemned most of the companies it came across as "cowboys" and cautioned that the Government would have to clean up the taxpayer-backed industry, vital for the battle against climate change, unless it improved its performance.

The consumer group launched its investigation after a rise in complaints about solar thermal firms. Undercover researchers rented a house in southern England and invited firms to quote for installing solar thermal systems, which use sunlight to heat tap water, as opposed to solar PV systems, which generate electricity - and which were not involved in the Which? exercise.

Of the 10 that exaggerated the financial savings that could be made, the double-glazing giant Everest subsequently admitted that its representative had made false claims – that its system could save 30 times more money than was possible.

Another firm, Ideal Solar Energy, wrongly claimed a solar scheme could halve gas bills and grossly misquoted energy supply statistics from the energy regulator Ofgem.

Which? said: "While these two companies concerned us the most, we received poor service and exaggerated claims of performance from nearly all 14 firms."

Its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, said: "Most of the firms in our investigation behaved like true cowboys – they promised huge savings that bore no relation to reality, and some really piled pressure on the homeowner to sign up immediately or risk losing a one-off 'special offer'."

He added: "The solar industry is too important to our long-term energy needs for things to drag on like this."

Neil McLoughlin, a trading standards officer who saw undercover footage of the Everest sales visit, said the precise nature of the quotation made the claim even more misleading and suggested the Everest may have broken the law on sales tactics by offering thousands of pounds off the price for making a decision "on the spot".

After being informed of the "sting", Everest said: "We're disappointed that our representative failed to use the sales support documentation provided and made claims he knew to be false."

In addition to boasting it could halve gas bills, Ideal successively dropped its originally quote of £8,690 to £5,860 and made a "pushy" phone call to the householder. It also misquoted statistics from energy regulator Ofgem about the proportion of a gas bill that goes on heating.

Ideal later defended its pitch, saying: "Like all retailers, we offer limited promotions on a selective basis" and added it instructed its sales agents not to specify savings to hot water bills.

Just one company, Southern Solar, was found to be helpful and provide sensible advice.

Last year, the OFT received 1,000 complaints about the solar panel industry – high for an industry with fewer than 100,000 installations in UK homes.

The Renewable Energy Association, a trade body which runs an assurance scheme for solar installers, said it was concerned by the report. A spokesman said: "We will be contacting Which? to follow up on their investigation, and take any action necessary against any of the companies which are members of our scheme."

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing